Tag Archives: kitchen tools

The Essential 5: Must-Haves Knives for your Kitchen

Essential 5 kitchen knives

Make your kitchen functional and safe with sharp knives that can get the job done!

Maybe you’re thinking it’s time to get a nice block of knives for the kitchen. I couldn’t agree more. MOST kitchens need an upgrade. But let me put a stop on snagging those knife sets you see on special at the department store (usually on sale). You know the ones I’m talking about: the nice wood block set with eight or more knives, kitchen scissors, and steak knives to boot. Save your money. Those sets are a complete waste.

It’ll be better to purchase what a chef would get: what I call “the essential 5”—everything you need to get just about any job done in the kitchen. Watch my video so you can see what these look like and how they handle.

Most important is what we call a “chef’s knife.” They come in different lengths. I recommend a size between 8” and 10”; mine has an 8” blade. However, the more blade you have, the more knife there is to work with. This knife can deal with about 90% of what you do in the kitchen, including slicing and dicing. I wouldn’t use a chef’s knife for butchering or cutting up poultry or even to remove the skin of large hard vegetables like butternut squash. You’d never use a knife like this to punch a hole in a can, either. A good chef’s knife will probably be the most expensive one in your set–maybe close to $100 for good quality. Things to look for: full-tang (one piece of metal with the two handle pieces); pins that hold the handle to the tang (not glued into the handle). Why is “full-tang” important? It gives you a more balanced, longer lasting knife, and it’s heavier than cheaper partial tang knives. The weight gives you a little more chopping strength when you have to cut through firm veggies like carrots and squash.

A decent paring knife with a blade about 3” to 3 ½“ long.  Paring knives are used for those tasks that need more attention to detail like mincing garlic cloves or peeling fruit. They won’t do you much good for cutting carrots or parsnips, that’s what your heavier knives (e.g., chef’s knife) are for. You don’t need to spend a lot on this knife – maybe $20. By the way, remember this all-important safety rule: the right blade does the job efficiently. If you have to use a lot of force, it’s a signal that you’ve got the wrong knife. Be very careful because your knife may slip out of your hand.

Serrated “trimming” knife with a blade length of about 6”. This knife is great for smaller loaves of bread, and they’re great for things with slick surfaces like tomatoes, watermelon, citrus, and peppers. You can even use them on layer cakes! Use your 6” serrated trimmer when you need to slice with a sawing motion. Do not use it for chopping and definitely not smaller items like fresh herbs, garlic or berries. A good quality one will cost around $30-40. If it goes dull, just replace it; they’re challenging to resharpen without losing the serrated edge. Look for teeth that aren’t too big (it’ll tear up soft interiors) or too small (not so efficient).

The last actual knife is a boning knife. Boning knives are not used to cut THROUGH bones, we use them to cut AROUND them. It’s the best blade for cutting up or boning fish, meat or poultry of any size.  This is the one knife not designed to cut a straight line but one to cut “around” things like joints or a ribcage. Good ones have a bit of flex to the blade which will allow you to separate the meat from the bone and it will cut through joints and cartilage. A decent boning knife will cost about $30, but if you plan to give it some heavy use in your kitchen, you may want to spend a bit more.

The last of the Essential 5: honing steel. It’s not a knife, but it’s essential to keep your blades sharp. A dull knife is the most dangerous tool in your kitchen.  Knives should be honed every time you use them. It doesn’t actually sharpen the blade, it realigns the fibers in the metal, so they keep a sharpened profile. But don’t forget to get your knives professionally sharpened once a year. Honing steel can be used on any straight blade but never on a serrated knife.  They’re very often included in a set, but if you’re buying it separately, they will cost about $25 – ceramic or steel.

Now you have “the essential 5”—go make something marvelous!

Time to Clean out the Kitchen Drawers?

Kitchen Updates

Out with the old tools and the odds gadgets – and make sure you get these must-haves.

It’s true that there’s a list of ‘must haves’ that every good home cook should have at their fingertips. But for me, after twenty years in the restaurant business, I’ve become clutter intolerant. Especially in the kitchen. So that list of must-haves has gotten shorter and shorter. Of course, I have a little story.

Several years back, I went to a friend’s home for a dinner party. I volunteered to help out with some of the preparations. Big mistake.  My friend was very proud of her gadgets – she had one thing that automatically chopped veggies, another thing that sliced them, and yet another weird thing that diced. She had drawers and drawers of more things that I seriously doubt she had ever used but maybe once. But here’s the thing: she didn’t have a single peeler that worked. Nada! Worse yet – no sharp knives or any way to sharpen them, which is a little pet peeve of mine. How can anyone cook without sharp knives?  A dull knife is the most dangerous tool in the kitchen.

I’ll admit that the more you cook, the more likely you’ll accumulate a collection of kitchen tools and gadgets that could fill two or three drawers. My mother was like that. She had so much stuff! And some of it was great – but I knew she only used most of it once or twice at a Thanksgiving dinner – while I was still living at home! At some point, you really have to take a cold hard look at some of this clutter and get rid of it.

I’m not talking about tossing out a favorite spoon (I have a short wooden spoon that’s over 20 years old!) or any of the big items like mixing bowls and cookware. I’m talking about the small stuff that fills drawers and clutters the kitchen. Another point – while I’m at it – tools and gadgets don’t last forever. Even favorite peelers eventually get dull and stop working. Worse yet, some tools have been used so much that they’re hard to clean, which is not good.

My solution! Start over. Dump everything that has aged or simply doesn’t work, and replace it with new stuff.

I did that last year. And it was fun. I went to one of my favorite stores – Crate and Barrel – and bought a brand-new set of kitchen tools by OXO. And what did I get? What I call, my ‘Must-Have Five’:

1.        Measuring cups and measuring spoons – yes both. This is one item that I seem to accumulate over the year. Most of the extra cups and spoons I get are from friends who came by to help cook (experienced home cooks often bring their own tools). I like the metal ones – I just feel like I’m getting a better measure from a metal spoon or cup.

2.        I love my wooden mixing spoons. Good ones are keepers. But like all things wood (example: cutting boards), eventually, you’ll have to part with them. You may see me in my videos also cooking with bamboo paddles. At any given time, I may have four or five of each of these extremely handy tools.

3.        Tongs – because who doesn’t need tongs? They’re indispensable for turning meat and veggies in a fryer, broiler, grill or pan. They’re handy for all sorts of reasons. So, I’ll have two or three of these – different lengths. And if you have non-stick cookware, make sure that you get the ones with coated tips so they won’t scratch.

4.        Can Opener – Oh yes. Have you ever tried to open a can without one? I have a funny story I’ll tell you sometime about a friend who went out to the desert with his family without one. But there are so many types! I like the basic hand crank edge opener.  These are the ones that open the can under the ridge so there are no sharp edges on the lid.  They’re easy to clean, and they’re small enough that they fit in a drawer easily.

5.        Peeler – If you cook at home, you must have at least one sharp and functioning peeler. Remember that these gadgets break or dull often. A peeler should be able to peel a raw carrot easily. If it skips or gouges, time to replace. Peelers are also great for making lemon zest that goes with quite a few recipes I know.

Last word – this list does not include what I think of as the essential tools like spatulas, sharp knives, whisk, potato masher, and rubber scrapers. If you bake, you want a good rolling pin. If you grate cheese, a nice box grater is good to have. But please – try to resist buying that electronic chopper on the clearance table. You’ll never use it again. Just sayin.